Sunday, July 31, 2016

Melissa Manlove: Facts Meets Feelings - Narrative Nonfiction

Kate Messner (L) and Melissa Manlove (R)
Melissa Manlove is an editor at the legendary Chronicle Books in San Francisco. She acquires nonfiction for all age groups, and fiction for ages 0-8—mostly visual books.

Often nonfiction writers want to portray a clear view of the world with logic. The problem is that human beings respond to the world with their emotions.

Good nonfiction speaks to the heart and to the head.

We need to learn to jump from fact to feeling. As soon as your gut recognizes something that's important, the brain remembers it. "As humans we are very different from each other in the facts of our lives. But we are alike in our feelings."

"Narrative arc is about the journey from one state to another. It is about transformation." Sometimes it's about the character, and sometimes it's about the narrator who's transformed by information.

She gave us a few examples of how this works in books.

"Fear comes from knowing something terrible is happening but not seeing all of it," she said. That's dread—so that's how you'd make something scary. (See Katherine Roy's NEIGHBORHOOD SHARKS for a glorious example of moving from fear to wonder.)

Don Brown's DROWNED CITY, about New Orleans, takes us from dread to frustration to resolve.

JOSEPHINE by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson, takes us on Josephine's transformation from fear and anger to hope and pride and triumph. There is a universality in her reaction as well as a uniqueness.

OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW by Kate Messner and Chris Silas Neal explores the isolation of being on top of snow and builds connection to creatures keeping safe in pockets beneath it.

Nonfiction helps us understand ourselves and the world around us—and can change the world. "Humans are good at thinking," she said. "The thing we're even better at is caring."

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